COLONIAL HEIGHTS, VA (WWBT) - It continues to be the number one killer in Virginia. Overdose deaths outnumber motor vehicle and gun-related incidents across the Commonwealth.
Declared a public health emergency, it's also posing a massive threat to emergency responders trying to save lives -- often putting their own at risk.
Now emergency responders in Petersburg and Colonial Heights are fighting back, getting 800 autoinjectors for their own use.
"That person was behind the wheel, foot on the brake, engine running, car in gear, when the first officer got on scene," said Petersburg Fire Chief Dennis Rubin, as he recalled a recent call in Petersburg, where emergency responders discovered an overdose victim.
"One move from that brake, perhaps that officer wouldn't be here today," he added.
It's a deadly reality facing officers, firefighters, and paramedics. Emergency responders are now arming themselves with autoinjectors filled with naloxone, not only to revive a patient but to protect themselves.
"If the rescuers cannot defend themselves against these types of drugs on the street, who is going to rescue them?" questioned Petersburg Police Chief Col. Kenneth Miller.
Opioids are becoming so present and so powerful that officers have to assume there's a substance at every scene that could put their life on the line just by exposure.
"Just something as small as a grain of sand can render someone unresponsive," explained Dr. Dusty Anderson, the Operational Medical Director for Colonial Heights and Petersburg.
The conversation began in June between the different neighboring agencies, with Dr. Anderson securing a gr ant through Kaleo, a Richmond-based business.
Kaleo is giving 800 of the naloxone autoinjectors to emergency responders in Colonial Heights and Petersburg, so each officer can carry a two-pack on them.
The voice instructions guide you through administering naloxone, designed by Dr. Eric Edwards and his twin brother.
"While trying to save lives, we find it pivotal to protect our first responders," shared Dr. Edwards.
He also rides as a paramedic in Chesterfield, seeing firsthand the need for the devices his company produces.
"We had multiple opioid overdose emergency calls [last night]. I've been on those front lines and know what you are all dealing with," he expressed to the emergency responders.
Each officer has gone through training over the last two weeks to learn how to administer the naloxone to themselves and a patient.
"We're able to provide our officers with the safety and protection they need if ever exposed to these drugs. They also allow officers to render aid to citizens when fire and EMS are not immediately available," explained Dr. Anderson.
With the current trend of opioid use, the medical director worries it could be less than a week before emergency responders have to use the autoinjectors.
Already this year, the two agencies have responded to 60 overdose cases, with four being deadly.
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